When it comes to counting calories, some may say the whole notion of it is flawed from the get-go:
Packaging being mislabeled
Restaurants under-calculating values
Cooking/blending changing the rate of bioavailability
And even your gut microbiota determining if you absorb more or less calories throughout the day.
I, however, think counting calories can be done in our own perfectly imperfect way, to help us be aware of what we need to eat to maintain, gain, or lose weight, and then we can use that knowledge to alter our food consumption based off our goals.
I wanted to cover some of the main things you can do to ensure maximum accuracy when counting calories/macros.
To learn how to calculate your ideal calories for you, check out my Get Lean Nutrition Guide.
And for your reference:
Carbohydrates = 4kcal per 1 gram
Protein = 4kcal per 1 gram
Fats = 9kcal per 1 gram
1 - Don’t guess what your portions are
When you’re measuring out your food, actually measure it. There’s no point tracking ‘45g of oatmeal’ when you actually ate 60g.
Guessing your portions will often result in you over or under-eating from your caloric goal.
2 - Exercise calories
If you’ve used an online calculator or my Nutrition Guide to calculate what your caloric consumption should be, chances are it already factored exercise into the equation. Let’s use an example.
EG - after using the equation, including exercise, weight etc, your ‘weight loss’ calories should be 1700kcal.
Now we put 1700kcal into our tracking app, and then if we have our FitBit or Apple Watch connected, and it tracks our movement/calories burnt, it will start adding these in as extra calories for us.
If we start to consume the ‘extra’ exercise calories our app has included, we will probably end up back around maintenance, rather than in the deficit we wanted to be at.
3 - Raw weight vs Cooked weights
I’m sure most people are aware of the concept that their food changes throughout the cooking process, but you may not have realised this alters how you need to be tracking it.
100g of raw chicken, ends up being about 75g of cooked chicken.
So if we portion out 100g of cooked chicken, but we track it in our app as just ‘chicken breast’ - we’re likely inputting for the raw weight, and therefore actually overeating those calories without knowing it. Because 100g of cooked chicken, would likely be about 120-125g in it’s raw weight.
Starchy vegetables typically lose weight when cooked, and I’d recommend tracking their cooked weight, and it’s easier to cook these in large batches.
You can track rice/pasta/etc however you prefer. I weigh mine out separately and track beforehand if I am making a single portion of a meal, or you can cook a bunch in a batch and look for the cooked weight.
4 - Treat it as a target range, not a strict set of numbers
No-one has time for measuring out 3g of peanut butter to help them perfectly nail their fat target for the day, that kind of behaviour is exhausting.
To keep this habit more manageable and maintainable over the long term, hitting your macros/calories within about 90% every day consistently for months will have a far greater effect than tracking everything down to the dot, getting overwhelmed, and then just wanting to throw your food scales in the bin.
Treat it as a rough target, rather than a strict number you need to nail every day.
My rule of thumb is:
Hit as close as possible to protein
5% over or under for fats is passible
10% over or under for carbs is okay
5 - Plan your day backwards
I find it easier to work backwards, plan dinners so that you’re not left with weird macros at the end of the day, and then potentially leftovers can be for lunch the following day.
Next: plan breakfast, it's best to have a higher carb brekky if you're planning on doing weight training in the morning.
Then use your snacks to fill in the gaps in your cals/macros.
As a general rule, eating a meal or snack every 3 hours will help you with hormonal balance, stable blood sugar levels, protein synthesis and can help create a more efficient metabolism.